Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Chocolate and Oranges...by Sheila Claydon
No, I'm not talking about Christmas, although I certainly hope to enjoy my fair share of chocolate plus an orange or two over the festive season. Instead I am following through on last month's blog A letter to remind us, which is about WW2 and how much we owe to everyone who lived through it.
Thanks to an conversation I had earlier today, I unexpectedly found myself thinking about my very early childhood. I was born in Southampton, England, at the very end of the war. It was, and still is, a very busy Port which, during the 1940s, was a starting point for troop ships, supply convoys and destroyers. Consequently it was regularly bombed throughout the war, and although the devastation of people's ruined lives had been cleared away long before I was old enough to be conscious of it, I can clearly remember the gaps, like missing teeth, in row upon row of houses. I remember, too, the 'wreck', a large grassy field with a huge dip in its centre that my friends and I used to slip and side down, shrieking with laughter and covering ourselves with a reddish dust, never for a moment realising our playground was the result of an exploded bomb, and that there had once been houses on our 'field.'
I didn't know either, that the wood yard opposite my grandmother's house was a yard only because a bomb had flattened all the houses that had once stood there, at the same time it had blown all the windows our of my grandmother's house. I even thought the dark cupboard under her stairs was exciting and liked to crawl inside, never knowing until much later that she and my mother, then a teenager, had spent many terrifying nights sleeping there when all the men of the house were away fighting.
I guess it is understandable that a war torn generation doesn't want to remember the horrors they have been through or talk about them to their children. Instead they need to create new memories and look forward, so my early childhood memories are mostly good ones, and among them are some real treasures. One of the best involves chocolate and oranges...which is where we came in!
Although my maternal grandfather had a terrible war sailing backwards and forwards across the Atlantic in supply convoys until his ship was eventually torpedoed, to me, as a little girl, he was neither a hero nor someone with dreadful memories. Instead he was a smiley, white-haired granddad, who put on a smart uniform every Thursday morning and went to the Port to help organize a ship's turnaround. I loved trying on his peaked cap and looking at his shiny medals, but by far the most important part of the day was when he came home. On Thursdays, instead of using his key he always knocked the door, and it was my job to open it. (I'm sure he must have unlocked it and clicked it open before he knocked because at only three or four years old I was far too small to do it by myself). Then, before he stepped into the house, I had to choose which of his pockets held a surprise. I never got it wrong...a small bar of chocolate, an orange, a banana. The excitement is with me still and of course I was too young to realise that every pocket was a winner! Nor did I know how lucky I was to have a grandfather whose semi-retired job meant he was able to bring home such treats. I didn't know that chocolate and those oranges had travelled thousands of miles across the sea or that few other children would taste them for several more years.
There are other memories too. One is of being sent to the shop next door to buy a bag of broken biscuits. This was much better than choosing one particular sort. Instead there was the joy of dipping into the bag and never being sure what would come out. Half a custard cream, a chipped ginger snap, or, if I was lucky, something with chocolate on it. The cakes were delicious too, despite rations being short. My grandmother always cooked from scratch and there was never enough sugar for icing, but even so I've never again tasted a Victoria sponge as good as hers.
I didn't know shelling peas was a chore either, or picking gooseberries, or pulling carrots. I thought they were just things I did because I loved how my mother cooked them, the same as I thought going to the library every week was because I liked to read, not because there was no spare money to buy books except at Christmas or birthday.
So that's another debt I owe to my parents and grandparents, and I am sure there are many others who feel the same. I was allowed to grow up without any of their memories of those terrible years of war shadowing my childhood. To me, until I was much older, all I learned were the popular songs they had sung and the strange nicknames of the people they had once lived and worked with. And my favorite dress for a very long time was an Royal Airforce blue pinafore embroidered around the bib with bright pink chain stitch. To me it wasn't a remake of my mother's WRAF uniform skirt, it was a lovely dress, a Christmas present lovingly made...cut out by my father and sewn by my mother.
The ice-cream and the bread might have been rubbish in those early years after the war, and for years to come, but I barely noticed because I had the chocolate and the oranges as well as a whole lot of other things besides. So thank you Mum and Dad, and thank you all those other adults who made sure I and my friends had a shadow-free childhood. It's taken me until now to really understand.
Mending Jodie's Heart (pictured above) is the first book of my When Paths Meet trilogy and as well as a romance it is a story of the sacrifice and love that is needed to raise a child. Books 2 and 3 continue this theme although none of the heroines were as lucky as me. You can find them at: